Bobby Mintz has been trying to get Eddie LeBaron to appear at a Tristar Productions’ show for years. Mintz has called LeBaron every few months, always hoping the first quarterback in Dallas Cowboys history would finally relent.
And he did.
LeBaron signed autographs Feb. 22 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on the first day of the 12th annual Winter Collectors Show.
“He enjoyed it and was great to the fans,” Mintz said. “I really believe I’ll be successful getting him to appear at a future show, likely in Houston.”
LeBaron was a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback from the University of Pacific. He broke into the NFL with Washington in 1952, and stayed there for seven years. He went to Dallas in 1960 for his final four seasons. During his 134-game career, LeBaron completed about 900 passes for more than 13,000 yards and 104 touchdowns.
“I think he relented and agreed to appear because he could just drive to the show from his home in Sacramento,” Mintz said.
LeBaron’s rare public appearance attracted some true fans, such as the New Jersey collector who flew in to meet him, or the Dallas collector who flew to California and spent less than 24 hours in the city just to get multiple LeBaron’s signature.
“I asked them why they didn’t just ship their items that they wanted signed, and each said, ‘We don’t ship our things; we get all our autographs in person,’ ” Mintz said.
LeBaron was on a list of about 12 other former pro athletes who Mintz has long wanted to appear at a Tristar show, but each has always rejected the offer, for whatever reason.
“I talk to them at length about show opportunities, but, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t interest them,” said Mintz, whose wish-list for future shows includes Bernie Kosar and Mike Greenwell, among others.
In addition to LeBaron, the San Francisco show featured Tyler Robertson, George Blanda, Ken Stabler, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Joe Kapp, Andre Reed, Ray Guy, John Elway, Ed McCaffrey, Tyrone Wheatley, Todd Christensen, Daryle LaMonica, Mark Van Eeghen and Craig Morton. Also appearing were new 2008 HOF inductees Rich Gossage and Dick Williams, along with Tom Flores, Dave Parker, Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye.
“Overall, the show went very well; it was better than our February 2007 show here,” Mintz said. “We had a better lineup and better attendance this year.
“John Elway was a big hit – Deion Sanders, as well. Elway could not have been more accommodating with the fans or with us; he was great.
If Mintz could have done something differently, he said he would have had Bo Jackson and Tom Flores appear on Saturday when most of the other football players signed.
“They then would have done better,” he said. “The show went well considering the weather. We had some serious weather challenges Saturday and Sunday. And I think the weather definitely hurt our attendance.”
No player was forced to cancel his appearance due to the weather or travel problems, though Jackson and Gossage each endured more than three-hour delays en route.
“It was a good show and could have been even better had there not been weather issues. For 2008, given the weather, the marketplace and the economy, I’m relieved,” Mintz said.
“The crowd was phenomenal; I definitely think the rain brought people inside,” said Modesto, Calif.-based dealer Greg Lambert. “The autograph guest list . . . those names are going to attract a crowd. Personally, I was very surprised with the show. I was blown away with the amount of people here.”
Lambert said the show was one of his 10 best over the past 10 years, and likely the best regional show in about five years.
“I couldn’t believe how many baseball boxes we sold. Everyone wants 2007 rookies. Then again, a lot of stuff sold,” Lambert said, adding, “No one is buying the high-end products; it’s the rookie boxes that are selling.”
Another San Francisco surprise, according to Lambert, was Upper Deck SP Basketball.
“It didn’t sell at all last year, and now I can’t keep it in stock,” he said, citing Kevin Durant and the content of the set as the prime reasons.
Lambert said relatively strong hockey card sales was also a bit of a surprise, although it simply could have been a byproduct of the locals’ love for the San Jose Sharks.
Kyle Boetel, a vintage card dealer from Colorado, said the San Francisco show featured a good crowd, but echoed the sentiments that the high-dollar cards didn’t move.
“The San Francisco market has long been a great one, but this was a relatively poor show in comparison,” Boetel said. “This was, though, a good buying show. I picked up a nice set of 1959 Topps baseball cards.”
Chuck Juliana, a New York-based dealer, said the weather certainly impacted the show, but he was happy with his sales level.
“I was happy with my numbers, and I definitely will be back next year,” Juliana said.
Juliana said San Francisco didn’t offer any insight into a particular top seller.
“There weren’t enough sales of any one product or person to create a trend,” he said.
Texas-based dealer Al Martin had success in San Francisco selling signed mini helmets, more than tripling his total from last year. Earl Campbell was one of the top sellers.
“Overall, it was a decent show. The crowd was pretty good,” Martin said.
Tristar returns to the Cow Palace on Feb. 20-22, 2009, yet Mintz said a decision about the traditional Labor Day weekend show in San Francisco has not been made. Last year, the show was moved to the weekend after Labor Day because the Bay Bridge was closed.
“We don’t know the date yet for the September San Francisco show, which will be decided on the Bay Bridge closing again this September,” Mintz said, adding that a decision will be made in April.
Tristar’s Houston show in June features Lance Berkman and likely some current Boston Red Sox players as well, Mintz said.
What about the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago this summer, in which Tristar will again serve as the host of the autograph pavilion?
“There’s a good chance that we’re going to get a couple of guys who collectors, when they hear so-and-so is appearing, will respond, ‘Ah, that’s a name that I really need for my collection,’ ” Mintz said. “There are no definites yet from that list, but if I get any of them, or all, they would really make this year’s National extra special.
“There’s no doubt that, because of Chicago’s presence and legacy in the hobby, that we really have to deliver an A-plus talent. Plus, this show deserves it; this is, after all, The National.”
Mintz said there will be about 75 autograph signers at the five-day National, including Craig Biggio, making his first public signing outside of Houston.
Mintz said there likely will not be any more shows added in 2008.
“We always look at shows that provide good opportunities for our dealers and collectors, but, to be frank, there’s not really a need for us to go anywhere else,” he said.
What about Kansas City, Boston and Cleveland – three previous stops on the Tristar circuit?
“It’s a business decision. Those shows were not performing up to the level that exhibitors and Tristar were able to make money,” he said, adding that new markets could be added in the future, such as Seattle, but nothing has been planned.